CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The second-quarter play started with a fake handoff from Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to running back Christian McCaffrey up the middle. Newton then gave the ball to rookie wide receiver DJ Moore running from his left to his right. Moore then flipped to second-year wide receiver Curtis Samuel going from his right to his left.
It’ll go down in the record book as a 33-yard double-reverse touchdown run by Samuel, even though he covered 103.9 yards according to NextGen stats, zigzagging in and out of Tampa Bay defenders to the end zone.
It’ll go into the minds of future opponents as an example of just how dangerous this offense can be in the hands of Norv Turner and a group of young, dynamic toys who are developing into a scoring machine.
Granted, the Bucs came into the game ranked last in the NFL in scoring defense, giving up 33.2 points a game.
But what the Panthers (6-2) have done the past two games (and in the fourth quarter against Philadelphia when Newton engineered three touchdown drives in a 21-17 victory) has them trending toward one of the most prolific offenses in the league.
Turner deserves credit.
He has transformed Newton into an efficient passer, which makes his title as the best dual-threat quarterback in the league even more meaningful. The 2015 NFL MVP now has a personal-best seven straight games with at least two touchdown passes.
Turner also has shown how well he’s adapted to the times, going from the power-running game he had with Emmitt Smith and the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s to the ball-control game he had with LaDainian Tomlinson and the San Diego Chargers to the dynamic play-caller with Newton & Co.
He’s shed any image of being conservative.
“That’s part of the problem,” coach Ron Rivera said earlier in the week. “People look at those things [from Turner’s past] and say he’s a vertical attack guy all the time. Not necessarily.”
What Turner does is utilize his talent to create mismatches.
“You do look at the way he attacks people,” Rivera said. “He is looking for matchups.”
It’s taken a while for Turner’s offensive genius to show at Carolina. Remember, this is the same team that fell behind 17-0 in a loss at Washington and 17-0 at Philadelphia before the rally that might have turned this season around.
This also is a different offense now.
Samuel missed the first three games after having a procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat. Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen didn’t play from the first quarter of the opener until the fifth game against Washington because of a fractured foot.
And Moore didn’t get fully implemented into the game plan until starter Torrey Smith suffered a knee injury late against the Eagles.
So Turner is just getting his full complement of weapons with a couple of games together.
That might have been lost a bit as the Panthers became conservative and lethargic in the second half. Tampa Bay capitalized to cut the lead to 35-28 before Turner went back to calling what was working in the first half.
That led to a 19-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Samuel as the Bucs were focused on all the motion underneath.
Couple Turner’s imagination with Newton’s ability to execute and a defense that — despite a second-half lull — is beginning to jell, and the Panthers have to be considered with the Los Angeles Rams (8-0) and New Orleans Saints (6-1) as the biggest threats to win the NFC.
Turner deserves much of the credit.